Reading an article in The Age about CityRail’s attempts to stifle a very useful iPhone application reminded me of a seminar I attended at Web Directions North 2008 on Government 2.0. The thrust of the seminar was basically for governments to encourage this sort of effort. They are the sacred holders of the information that the public need, they should release this information and let the general population use it in the way they see fit. Governments don’t always have the best ideas, or even if they have great ideas, they don’t always have the necessary resources to realise them. In the past forward thinking governments have found abundant creativity and resources if they simply provide the information and let the community do what is needed with it. Sure you may need to provide some disclaimers for legal purposes, something like “While <insert name of government agency here> supports development of third party applications based on the data we provide, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the program, nor it’s suitability for any particular use” I’m sure every application developer would be happy to include this in there terms of service.
In this specific incident, CityRail has used the copyright argument saying we own the timetable information. Which is probably legally true, but at the same time totally unhelpful. People like Alvin Singh should be rewarded for there creativity and effort, not threatened. He has even offered to give CityRail the source code on which to build a better application. CityRail should take up his offer, or at the very least, bring out a competing application that is more accurate (ie includes the latest information about service disruptions, etc…), and has better features, that will quite naturally defeat Alvin Singh’s application.